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Wesh has become ubiquitous in French popular culture and is a generic term that can mean many things. It is generally part of a coded language and its meaning depends on the context in which it is used or on the non-verbal language of its users. In this article, I invite you to discover the origins of the term and its multiple uses.
The Algerian origins of wesh
Many uninitiated people think that wesh is derived from ouais, itself derived from oui. It would then be a simple phonetic variation, like a ouaich, giving a certain accent to its speech. It would then be a sign of casualness, youth, rebellion against norms and authority – who would say ouaich to the mayor of his municipality or to the boss of a big company?
In reality, and few people know this, the term comes straight from Algeria. In Algerian Arabic, the sound wesh is a question like what? or is it that? It is therefore very commonly used, especially when meeting a person. So after the basic greeting, we ask Wesh rak? which simply translates as How are you? We understand that a primary meaning of our wesh would be ça va?
Be careful not to confuse the Algerian wesh with the Moroccan wesg. If it is true that in Morocco this word is also interrogative, it means what ?
Arrival in France via hip-hop music
It was around the first half of the 1980s that the wesh made its appearance in France. It was then used by hip-hop singers, especially of North African origin, who took the Arabic sound and turned it into an interrogation in French. As the Arabic word is generally used to ask about someone, its French heir became first a form of greeting. Wesh then means hello, and even salut, ça va?
“Wesh” in the French dictionary
Like many slang terms, the term wesh was eventually accepted as an official word in the French language. It was in 2009 that it made its first appearance in the Petit Robert, which describes it as an interrogative adverb and locates its origins in the Arabic language. By the way, on this occasion, let me give you a famous scrabble tip: wesh is a golden opportunity to get rid of that damn w which is ruining your life because you can’t write wagon or wombat. Moreover, you get rid of it at the same time as the h, while using the very common letters e and s! Imagine putting that on a word multiplier x 3…
Slang in constant evolution
Of course, slang is characterized by its extreme dynamism, unlike dead languages.
It is therefore very difficult to find and pinpoint every meaning of wesh, which can change from one year to the next, and from one suburb to the next. Suburban dialects are used as codes, as forms of cultural identification. If a rival suburb uses wesh with a certain meaning, the other suburbs will try to find another.
For example, wesh, meaning hello or hi are you okay, can also be used as yes (or yeah), and has evolved into other uses. One can use wesh simply to apostrophize a person who has already been greeted.
But wesh can also be used to express emotions, usually negative. So saying a wesh could mean I’m at the end of my rope or I’m fed up. In some cases, it can even replace a common swear word. So you have to be careful with the context!
As it is used to apostrophize people, wesh can also be used to prompt a person to perform an action.
Other spellings of the word “wesh”
Since the word wesh is just a sound taken from dialectal Arabic, there was actually no official writing until it was introduced in the Petit Robert in 2009. For this reason, it is quite possible to spell it differently, like wech or ouesh. The abbreviation wsh is very frequently used in the SMS language.
The wesh wesh people
Some people are characterized by their intensive use of wesh. The same person, or group of people, can use this term with multiple meanings. They rely on context, non-verbal language and some more mysterious codes to understand the meaning of each wesh expressed. Some see this as a form of language impoverishment and, because of the extensive use in hip-hop of wesh, associate it with specific types of people.
From this came the term wesh wesh, which refers to people who overuse wesh and don’t really tend to wear a tailored suit and tie from Monday to Sunday. Of course, this term is just as popular as wesh and refers to different groups depending on who uses it. For the first, a wesh wesh will be a scum of the cities, for the other it will be the neighbor who wears socks with his sandals… I’m exaggerating a bit, but this term is very broad, as is redneck in American English.
Who to say wesh to?
If someone wants to use the term wesh in their speech or writing, I can’t stop them. But you have to know when and where to use it, or you’ll be considered a wesh wesh.
Mostly, you have to take into consideration the social environment. I could tell you that it is used in a family, with friends... but which family? In a family where the parents are still on speaking terms with each other after ten years of marriage, the wesh may not go over well. Or it may be used by their rebellious teenage children to defy cultural norms.
Otherwise, it is generally best to avoid saying wesh in front of one’s boss, a political representative, or a university professor. It is a very informal term, which some people even associate with circles that are too popular for their taste. In this case, using wesh in a circle of close friends can become a sign of mutual trust, and that one will not be judged as a slob by others.